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A Tale of Tallinn – Part Two

Runs, Tours & Experiences Posted on Mon, November 04, 2019 12:33PM

Saturday, 7th of September. It’s the second day in Tallinn and the best way to start it is with a biiiig breakfast at the Sokos Hotel Viru! It includes food and drinks for all possible preferences and tastes so one could not really get out of there and still be hungry 😄

The day before the marathon is usually one where I have to think carefully about what to eat and do. The meals have to be rich in carbs and veggies and a higher amount of liquids (to be understood as water, tea or similar) is required. All the ‘extra weight’ in my body has to be eliminated before the race, so that I will be able to finish it without stomach problems and not encounter moments where my energy goes down to 0. Activities that cause tiredness should also be reduced to the minimum.

With that in mind, the big healthy breakfast was the best choice to give me energy for the first half of the day and then to let me make better nutrition choices for the other half of it. As for the activities to undertake, well this part is also tricky. On one hand, being the first time ever in Tallinn and having most of the day free is an excellent opportunity to explore the city as much as I can. But Tallinn has many beatiful areas outside the historical city centre and walking around the city to cover them would leave me super tired at the end of the day! 😏

The Solution: the Hop On Hop Off Bus! One 24h ticket was valid for 3 different sightseeing lines through the cities, each line having the color red, blue or green. The buses were equipped with audio guides in 9 languages, where each point of interest was narrated as the bus drove close to it on its route. The visitors could “hop on” and “hop off” as many times as they wanted, during the validity of their ticket. ([1])

Well, that turned out to be really helpful: I could see all the important parts of the city without spending a physical effort to get there!

A self-driving car

The Green Line

Strike a pose!

Chill before the marathon 😎

After so much sightseeing on different lines, it was time to watch the next event of the Tallinn Marathon weekend: the 10K race! With more than 7000 participants, it was actually the most attended event of all. ([2])

Waiting for the runners at the Drama Theatre

After the race, the time came to find a good restaurant with vegan menu, in order to provide my body with a healthy carbo-loading before the big race. The Basiilik restaurant was close to the hotel and offered a menu with many options, so why not giving it a try? 😉 ([3])

Carrot-pumpkin purree soup

Spinach ravioli with vegan cheese  and Marathon map

I also had a pizza among these meals, because something told me that for a proper carbo-loading I should not stop after the super yummy carrot-pumpkin soup and the spinach ravioli… yeah, just looking at the marathon map was enough 🍕😄

The day ended with my usual pre-race routine, before going to sleep: 

  • T-shirt, shorts, shoes, cap, rain jacket, running watch, race bib etc. ✅
  • action-cam, selfie-stick and accessories ✅
  • check the course map and profile one more time ✅
  • arrange the logistics ✅
  • set the alarm to not oversleep ⏰ – it happens rarely, because usually I do not sleep a lot before the big race, but anyway ✅

Everything seems to be prepared for the marathon. 

However, am I really prepared for this?? 😅

External references:

[1] https://citytour.ee/en/

[2] http://www.jooks.ee/en/tallinn-marathon/results

[3] https://basiilik.ee/



A Tale of Tallinn – Part One

Runs, Tours & Experiences Posted on Sat, October 26, 2019 07:34AM

Friday, 6th of September 2019. It’s almost 1PM and the LOT Airlines plane lands in a small airport in Northern Europe…

We’re in Tallinn, Estonia!!

Wait, where?? Take a look at the map 😉

That’s actually the northermost point I have ever been to in my whole life! This definitely calls for a Marathon!

I’ve heard many great things about Tallinn and Estonia before my trip: best preserved Old Town in Northern Europe, one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, the only country in Europe where you can vote online, friendly people, a lot of nature and the list goes on. What else could this beautiful city possibly offer in order to make me book flight tickets and land there on the 6th of September? 😄

The Marathon, of course.

There was no time for a first walk around the city, because the organizers were kind to invite me to attend the press conference which was starting in an hour. Luckily, the trip with the tram from the airport to the city centre takes only 15 minutes and the hotel was close to the press conference location. 

That would be efficiency summed up in a few words: fast commuting, quick check-in, so perfectly on time for the press conference.

Press Conference time!! The selected location was the Tallinn City Council, a pretty old building with a vintage style. The top athletes who arrived for the race weekend were sitting at a table. Opposed to them, some Estonian press and television was preparing to record the discussion. Ok the moderator has just started to talk, let’s go live on the Facebook Trek and Run page! He is saying something in Estonian, now some of the Estonian guests take the microphone and continue speaking in Estonian.. sadly no English translation for us 😒

Luckily we received the lists of race favourites for the 10k, 21k and Marathon so I could make a better idea about the importance of the event. There were no super big names on the scene, but I could recognize the names of Lily and Leila Luik – two of the famous Estonian triplets who competed at the Rio 2016 Olympics ([1]). (The two sisters ran the 10k race in Tallinn finishing in 3rd and 4th place)

The running triplets were not present at the press conference. Instead, another Estonian local hero, Liina Tsernov, was there and said a few words about her expectations before the 10k race.. well, at least that is what I think she said, since there was no English translation 😄

Afterwards we had a few words from Roman Fosti, the runner whom I could recognize from the Marathon promo picture, and Nina Lauwaert from Belgium, competing for the 21k race. Luckily for me, Nina Lauwaert did not speak Estonian, but English. I was relieved. She told that her 21k is actually a preparation for the Berlin Marathon, where she needs to achieve a qualifying time for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. The microphone was passed to the Kenyan marathoners, Moses Too and Bernard Sang, who were hoping for good weather conditions so they could do their best at the marathon. (Bernard Sang did not break his Personal Best but still finished in 2nd place with the time of 2:13.47)

Nina Lauwaert (BEL)
Roman Fosti (EST)


After another round of talks in Estonian, the press conference finished and each athlete was approached by journalists for separate interviews. I used the moment to have a few words with Belgian marathoner Nina Lauwaert. She told me that she was running the Halfmarathon in Tallinn as a preparation for the Berlin Marathon at the end of the month. Having missed the qualification for the upcoming Doha IAAF World Championships, her goal is now to run under the 2h30′ mark which will allow her to book the tickets for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. The qualification criteria for Tokyo are actually more complex and finishing under the time limit is only one of the options ([2]). (Nina Lauwaert finished the 21k in 3rd position with 1:12.23) 🎉

Then it was the time to talk to the Estonian local hero Roman Fosti, also running the 21k in Tallinn as a preparation for the Doha World Championships, where he is targeting to finish under 2h20′ in the Marathon. The heat in Doha will play an important role so it will be interesting to see how will he adapt to it. He intends to participate in the Valencia Marathon later this year. We also discussed about the upcoming Ineos 1:59 Challenge in Vienna, where Eliud Kipchoge will try to run the Marathon under 2 hours ([3]). (Roman Fosti finished the 21k in 4th place with 1:04:53) 🏃


So much athletics information in just one hour.. wow!! The press conference really brought me directly into race mood. It was great for me to transition from the avid athletics races couch watcher / amateur runner to interviewing top athletes and get their feelings before the next challenge. I liked their positive attitude, determination and focus towards their big goals. Winning every race or breaking a personal record every time is not feasible. Making small and smart steps to achieve the big goal will be more rewarding than pushing the limits when it is not necessary. 💡


Ok time to get some Tallinn flair, we’re in the famous Old Town so let’s walk around a bit..

Soprus Cinema
 Town Hall
 Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

The first event of the weekend, the We Run TLN 5K race, took place later in the afternoon so it was about time to put on those running shoes, watch the runners and do a first run through the city centre! Let’s watch some first impressions:

Running in Tallinn is great!

Time is flying and the sun was setting over Tallinn. In other words, no more sports, but two other lovely activities: dinner and sleep. Good night, Tallinn!! 🌛


External References:

[1] https://www.straitstimes.com/sport/olympics-estonias-luik-triplets-make-history-in-rio-marathon

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athletics_at_the_2020_Summer_Olympics_%E2%80%93_Qualification

[3] https://www.ineos159challenge.com/


Tallinn Marathon Results: https://new2019.championchip.ee/results/1225



Scuba and Snorkeling with Life Planet Project, Costa Rica

Canoeing & Swimming, Tours & Experiences Posted on Tue, August 27, 2019 02:32PM

We went on a scuba and snorkeling day tour with Carolina and Davide of Life Planet Project and consider them among the most ethically sound, caring tour guides we’ve ever experienced, anywhere in the world. We also saw more sharks than ever before out at Cano Island (even compared to when we went on a 2 week liveabord diving tour with the MV Sharkwater), and also learned so much about the ocean, the mangroves, and Costa Rican culture. If you’re looking for an honest, ethical company offering great land and sea tour experiences, you’ve found them.

We started our day with a transfer to Sierpe, from where we took a boat downriver and out into the Pacific, heading for Cano Island. The images and film below tell the story of our day.

Davide telling us about what was to come, as we sat on the boat in Sierpe.
The views as we motored downriver were spectacular.
The Sierpe River really is beautiful.
We stopped frequently to see monkeys, birds and sloths in the jungle that fringed the river.
Approaching the river mouth. Between the two headlands is the opening into the Pacific.
En route to Cano Island. We saw dolphins as we went, you can see them in the film at the end of this article.
Whilst some of us snorkeled, some of us went diving.
There were plenty of fish, and also sharks.
We didn’t get too close. The company is as ethical as they come and close interaction with wild animals is not encouraged. We agree with this wholeheartedly.
More sharks.
Fish and sharks. I love being underwater!
We even saw a hammerhead shark! It was too deep for my camera to work (nearly 30 metres) but I got a shot of us celebrating when we surfaced.
Then it was lunchtime.
Excellent pasta served up in a coconut shell.
Lunch with good friends. Tastes even better after you’ve just swum with sharks!
After another dive we went ashore to Cano Island, this is the rangers station and museum.
The view from a point about 10 minute walk inland.
Enjoying a stroll on the beach.
Then it was time to leave Cano Island and head back to the Sierpe River via a different route.
Enjoying the coastline as we motor back.
Davide explains how the mangrove forests are being destroyed and what that means for the oceans. The mangroves are the nursery for many species of animal and fish.
Another view of the Sierpe as we neared the town.

The emphasis all day was on showing us why it’s important to preserve the environment. It was a great tour, and this educational aspect was the icing on the cake. It’s worth re-printing a piece from their website here, we wish all tour companies thought like this!

“We aim at sharing the natural beauties of our planet, on land and underwater, promoting exciting activities merged with environmental awareness and collaboration with the key figures of today’s environmental conservation movement.

We have a desire to help nature, to give back. We want tourism to stop leeching our planet. We want to raise consciousness and give you the experience of a lifetime in the meanwhile. We want you to learn. To see with your own eyes. And we want you to have fun, lots of it!!!”

We recommend you look Life Planet Project up if you are in the Manuel Antonio/Dominical/Uvita area and want an ethically sound, fun day tour.

Check out what they offer on their website – https://www.lifeplanetproject.com/

Here’s a short video we made showing highlights of our day.



Hacienda Baru Guided Jungle Walk, Dominical, Costa Rica

Tours & Experiences Posted on Tue, August 20, 2019 12:57PM

Hacienda Baru offers a genuine Costa Rican wildlife experience, as opposed to the problematic wildlife experience you’ll most likely have at nearby Manuel Antonio National Park (where there are hoards of people, many of whom feed the animals, which in turn creates a whole host of problems and unnatural experiences).

We took a 3-hour rainforest walk at Hacienda Baru with a very knowledgeable guide and saw sloths, many birds, frogs, lizards and peccary boar, as well as the amazing, beautiful rainforest.

Walking inland with our guide.
An Aracari, viewed through our guides spotting scope.
Vines, creepers, buttress roots; a fascinating environment.
Most reasonably fit people could handle the hiking trails here. There are lowland trails with little elevation change and more challenging trails heading inland and uphill.
The view from inland back down to the hacienda’s shoreline.
It pays to walk slowly and look all around. This minute frog was on a leaf at our feet.
A highlight for us were the trees and plants. There is incredible variety.
A Trogon, viewed once again through our guides spotting scope.

The owner of Hacienda Baru is Jack Ewing and we advise that you read his book ‘Monkeys are made of Chocolate’ to get you in the mood for your visit, and to discover things about the local people, history, and wildlife that you’ll never find in any other wildlife or travel guide.

You can buy the book online, or in the hacienda shop.
Chocolate pods growing wild!

After our guided tour we made our way down to the reserve’s deserted beach on our own.

The shady route to the beach. It’s about a 15 minute walk from the hacienda shop.
We stopped often to admire the trees, there are some magnificent specimens here.
There were also plenty of lizards at the side of the path. Look close mid left and you’ll see it!
The beach is wild and unspoilt.
When the heat of the beach got too much we treated to the shade of the palms.

Hacienda Baru seems to us a perfect example of how to operate a wildlife reserve; it’s a must-see attraction if you’re staying in Dominical or anywhere near. To learn more, visit the Hacienda Baru website – https://www.haciendabaru.com/



A Week in Gozo

Tours & Experiences Posted on Fri, August 16, 2019 03:04PM

Our team ran the Gozo Half Marathon on Sunday 28th April this year and stayed on for a week after the race to enjoy this little known but beautiful Mediterranean island. We’ll write more fully about our time there in the September issue of our magazine but for now here’s a collection of videos that we shot whilst running, kayaking, walking, picnicking, sailing, segwaying and more. If you’re looking for a relaxed, traditional Mediterranean island, quiet villages and plenty of open areas awash with opportunities for outdoors activity consider Gozo!

Brief Facts
We flew to Malta with Air Malta – https://www.airmalta.com/ Great service from the UK and many other European destinations, and the same price as the budget airlines like Easyjet.

We transferred from Malta to Gozo by car and ferry, all arrangements were made through the Maltese Tourist Authority – https://www.visitmalta.com/en/home Their website is easy to navigate and has a great choice of options for tours, transfers, hotels, etc.

Our hotel was Ta Cenc Spa on Gozo – http://www.tacenc.com/ One of the finest we’re ever stayed at, anywhere. Service, food and cleanliness are what you’d expect from a 5* hotel yet there is more to this rural paradise than this. It’s built on Gozo’s highest point and offers stunning views over the huge estate surrounding it, the majestic cliffs less than 20 minutes walk away and the picturesque islands of Malta and Comino. It’s the only hotel in the region to be built on a 150 hectare Natura 2000 site, with undisturbed skylines that stretch as far as the eye can see thanks to the single storey/low rise nature of it’s rooms and public areas.

The Gozo Half Marathon – https://www.gozomarathon.org/
This race is the oldest in Malta/Gozo, having first been run in 1977. In 2017 the race was awarded the prestigious 3-Star Certification from European Athletics. Two years later European Athletics awarded the 5-Star rating to the 10K race that goes on at the same time as the Half Marathon race. In 2019 more than 1,450 athletes from 60 nations took part in one of the races, making this truly an international event.

It was perfect for us, as we both love to travel and race but have varied interests when it comes to running. I like to run hard at longer distances so took the Half Marathon on whilst Nita likes shorter distances taken at an easier pace, so she ran the 10km. It’s one of the most scenic (check our race video out below), friendliest road races anywhere.

Gozo Segway – http://www.gozosegway.com/

Gozo Adventures – http://www.gozoadventures.com/

Gozo Picnic – https://www.facebook.com/yourgozopicnic/

Divers Cove – https://www.gozodive.com/

We went diving and snorkeling with St Andrews Divers Cove, the marine life was good and we had a marvelous experience with an octopus which tapped Dave on the hand as he rested doing his safety stop.

Here’s a quick look at some of the other experiences that we had on Gozo and Malta.

Check out the September issue of Trek and Run for more photos and info.

Any questions email Dave at dave@trekandrun.com

For general info see the Maltese Tourism website – https://www.visitmalta.com/en/home



The Royal Pavilion, Brighton, UK

Tours & Experiences Posted on Mon, August 12, 2019 09:48PM

We visited the Royal Pavilion in Brighton earlier this year on a few days layover between Malta and Toronto (Brighton is a 50 minute train ride from Gatwick Airport, trains run several times an hour). It’s a pretty town by the sea with lots to offer; a decent, well priced hotel or 2 (our favourite is the Travelodge on West St), many vegan restaurants, a great marathon (it takes place in April and is the 2nd largest in the UK), an old fashioned pier and of course the Brighton Pavilion.

It’s a fascinating building when viewed from the outside – the Brighton Marathon will lead you right past it – and inside it’s stunning. No photography is allowed within the various rooms but the images that follow, which were supplied to us by (and copyrighted to) the Royal Pavilion & Museums, will give you an idea of the fairy-tale setting that awaits you.

We took the audio tour (fantastic and well recommended) and our visit lasted a little over 90 minutes. For those who want to linger there is a tearoom where refreshments can be had inside or on a balcony. There was an exhibition going on at the time of our visit that we thought excellently curated. I shan’t write much more as it’s enough to say that we loved our time there and recommend you make the Pavilion a priority in your schedule if you’re based in Brighton, London or anywhere nearby. It’s spectacular.

There’s also a very special new exhibition coming to the venue in September of 2019. Here’s some info supplied to us by the Pavilion staff which details more about the building and the exhibition.

“Exquisite items of art and furniture owned by George IV will return to the Royal Pavilion, Brighton & Hove for the first time in 170 years on 21 September 2019. Items lent by Her Majesty The Queen from the Royal Collection include majestic 15-foot high porcelain pagodas and the Kylin Clock, an extraordinary golden extravaganza featuring turquoise Chinese lions.

The Royal Collection loan of more than 124 unique decorative items will return to the Royal Pavilion while extensive building work is being carried out in the East Wing at Buckingham Palace.

All the items were originally commissioned or bought by the visionary Prince Regent, who later became George IV, who transformed a former lodging house into an extravagant, exotic palace inspired by a romantic vision of Chinese and Indian design. For the first time ever visitors will be able to see how these stunning items would have looked in their former home.

A collaborative venture between Royal Collection Trust and the Royal Pavilion & Museums this unique project lasting two years will show the Royal Pavilion as it looked before the items were moved to Buckingham Palace by Queen Victoria in 1847.

Keeper of the Royal Pavilion David Beevers said; “We are thrilled to have so many pieces which were commissioned by George IV for the Royal Pavilion to be on display here. They are beautiful items with a wonderful history linking them to the Pavilion. We are so grateful to Her Majesty the Queen for giving us this opportunity to display them in their original setting as they were nearly two hundred years ago.”

Councillor Alan Robins, chair of the Tourism, Development and Culture Committee of Brighton & Hove City Council said; “We are delighted to receive this generous loan from the Royal Collection. I’m sure many of our residents and visitors to the city will be keen to see these splendid pieces in the ideal setting of the Royal Pavilion.”

The Royal Pavilion, part of Brighton & Hove City Council, is considered George IV’s most exotic extravagance. He first visited Brighton when he was the Prince of Wales and was thrilled to be able to enjoy the delights of the town away from the formality of the royal court in London.

He soon commissioned Henry Holland and later the architect John Nash to transform his original humble lodging house into a palace fit for a prince, adding domes and minarets and furnishing the interior in the most lavish and opulent style.

He sent his most trusted courtiers to purchase beautiful wallpapers and ceramics imported from China and commissioned the designers Frederick Crace and Robert Jones to make his romantic and fantastical visions a reality. The Prince loved Asian and Chinese design and employed the most talented craftsmen to make items designed in the Chinoserie style which later became the height of fashion.

With his love of visual arts and fascination with the mythical orient, The Prince Regent set about lavishly furnishing and decorating his seaside home. He especially loved Chinese ceramics mounted in France and England with giltbronze mounts, Chinese export porcelain and furniture, and English and European furniture in exotic styles.

Many of these decorative ornaments and works of art were removed to Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle by Queen Victoria in 1847 when it was thought the Royal Pavilion might be demolished. A lot were incorporated into the new spaces at the Palace, particularly the Chinese-themed interiors of the Centre Room, the Yellow Drawing Room and the Chinese Dining Room. Over the years some items of original Pavilion decoration have been returned by monarchs including George V and Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth II. Most of the items returning on loan from the Royal Collection have not been on public display for many years, having been in rooms at Buckingham Palace not on the visitor route but used by the Royal Family for charitable events.

George IV;s exquisite taste and opulent style can still be enjoyed in the spectacular palace visited by over 325,000 people every year. The loan of the Royal Collection items is expected to increase visitor numbers and add a new dimension to the experience of visiting the Royal Pavilion.”

Discover more about the Royal Pavilion and purchase tickets online here – https://brightonmuseums.org.uk/royalpavilion/



Good Tastes of Tuscany Cooking Class

Tours & Experiences Posted on Wed, June 19, 2019 04:57PM

(For the full review and many more photos, see the July 2019 issue of our magazine)

Good Tastes of Tuscany are based on the 13th century Pandolfini estate in Lastra a Signa, a village just outside of Florence.

They offer accommodation, tours and more and I visited them to take part in their single day cookery class (they also offer multi day classes for those wishing to delve further into the intricacies of Tuscan cooking). There were 4 of us taking the course. Our teacher was an experienced local chef who’d worked in many of Florence’s 5 star restaurants and knew the Tuscan cuisine inside out. Many tips came our way during the course of the day such as don’t tip the pasta out of the boiling water when it’s done, instead use tongs so you don’t damage the pasta and you retain the water for use in your pesto so you can thin it to your taste.

Having spent the morning preparing stock, tomato sauce, walnut pesto, ribollita (Tuscan peasant soup), handmade pasta, eggplant parmigiana and artichoke salad under Chef’s guidance (he allocated us individual jobs and we worked together to complete each task) we sat together and ate it together with a bottle of the estate’s own wine. An excellent day, and certainly the most informative cookery class I’ve ever taken.

After class I took a walk on the dirt track that skirts the Pandolfini estate. It leads up the hillside and past the old villa of the opera singer ‘The Great Caruso’. Walking to the left of the Caruso villa’s main gate I passed a pool on my left where his maid used to wash the singers laundry. Further on the landscape opened out to reveal slopes of olive groves on my right drawing the eyes to mountain ridges and distant villages. The area is well known for it’s traditional character but such is the draw of Florence that few tourists venture here. In the 2 short hours I walked the track it showed great promise as a trail running or mountain biking route and I’m sure that as the famous ‘white roads’ of Tuscany get busier and more commercial then this area will see an increase in traffic.

Within days I was back in England cooking a vegan version of eggplant parmigiana for my family. I did a great job, I’m told by my sister, and for that I have to give thanks to the cookery course. We bring many things back from our holidays – t shirts, postcards, fridge magnets, etc – but the knowledge to cook for your family and please them has got to be one of the most useful, and valuable souvenirs from a great trip.

To check out all of that Good Tastes of Tuscany offer see their website https://tuscany-cooking-class.com/



A Day at Fattoria Lavacchio

Tours & Experiences Posted on Wed, June 19, 2019 04:35PM

(For more photos, see the July 2019 issue of our magazine)

Fattoria Lavacchio is a organic farm near Florence. It’s a special place, and quite unlike any organic farm I’ve visited. Most modern farms use chemical pest control or fertiliser to increase yields, whilst most organic farms use natural fertilizers (which can also be quite bad for us, such as copper). However, Fattoria Lavacchio doesn’t use artificial pest control or fertilizer at all. Instead they use nature.

To pay them a visit I caught the train to Pontesieve, a village in Rufina Chianti region about 9 miles east of Florence, and from there Mr Tatsu drove me to the farm.

“The farm was built in 1700 by the Peruzzi’ family and 100 years later passed into the hands of the Marquis Strozzi Sacrati of Mantova,” he explained as we made slow progress up the winding hillside. “Then, having fallen into disrepair, the Lottero brothers bought it in 1978 and undertook a complete restoration to how it looks now. Since then the farm has combined old methods with the most modern techniques to produce organic wine, olive oil and fresh produce and has looked to harmonise it’s activities within the balance and boundaries set by nature.”

“See the rows between the vines,” pointed out Mr Tatsu as we walked along the top of one of the vineyards. “There’s mustard growing there, the insects don’t like that so they keep away from the vines. The other plants among the mustard are fava beans. They give plenty of nitrates back to the soil, which the vines take out. But we use the smaller type of fava. If we used the larger type of beans the insects might be attracted to the area, but they’re not interested in the small beans so they’re left alone. So really, you might say that to combat harmful pests, we create a habitat where animals and plants that keep the pests away can thrive.”

Before heading for a tour of the wine cellars we accompanied Paolo and his dogs Peggy and Pippo out into the forest to hunt for truffles. Paolo trains the dogs by soaking pieces of bread in truffle oil, hiding the bread under the carpet at home and then rewarding the dogs when they find it. By this method the dogs learn that if they find the truffle, they get a treat.

There are many types of truffle and they can be found most of the year, although it’s not an easy job and Paolo said that for reasons unknown to him it’s getting harder than it was. Perhaps it’s climate change, or an ever increasing demand for the truffles. There have been attempts to grow them commercially but truffles are independent little things and insist on growing where they want. All the commercial companies can do is provide what they think is the right environment for a truffle to flourish and to introduce the spores; the rest is up to the truffle itself.

Even if those attempts eventually succeed I’d still rather hunt in the forest with dogs, as we did for the next hour. It was good exercise going up and down the hills, and good for the spirit to be out there in nature gathering food with the help of another species. By the time we got back to the farm I was high on the experience and quite determined to convince my friends that they too must come to the farm and do the same thing. A life lived without a single truffle hunt is barely a life lived at all.

Later, at the farm ‘Mulino A Vento’ restaurant, chef Mirko Margheri cooked us a vegan feast. We ate at a table overlooking some of the farm’s vineyards. There was cacao coloured pasta with a hint of truffle, savoy cabbage wrapped in broccoli leaf sat in a masala and turmeric chickpea cream, a colourful starter made from pureed veg, and a sorbet for dessert. We drank ‘Puro’, which is 100% sangiovese, and ‘Pachar’, a blend of Chardonnay, Sauv Blanc and Viognier grapes (which are all grown on the top of the hill to the east of the restaurant). The wine was excellent, and tasted all the better for having been made with grapes from the fields within sight of my table. Maybe I wouldn’t have thought this could be so before my visit but in Tuscany, where things like types of soil and quality of ingredients are treated seriously, one is encouraged to think of such things. And I’m glad of it!

You can stay on the farm, and take cookery and various other courses there. Check their website out for further details. http://www.fattorialavacchio.com/



Inspiring Tuscany

Tours & Experiences Posted on Tue, June 18, 2019 11:00AM

(For more photos, see the July 2019 issue of our magazine)

I met Alessandro, the guide behind Inspiring Tuscany Tours, outside of Velona’s Jungle Luxury Suites in Florence just after breakfast. We talked a little about the eco-bikes we’d use on our tour – it was the first time I’d ridden an electric bike – and what we’d aim to experience as he fixed the batteries onto the frames of our bikes.

“We’ll be looking for the authentic Florence,” he explained. “Something that lays beyond the art galleries and that makes up the fabric of the city. There’ll be history, vineyards, wine tasting of course, and more. Are you comfortable on the electric cycle? Ok, let’s go!”

Florence has such a beautiful face that you can have a good time just walking around on your own. However, if you want to really experience the heart and soul of the city then you’ll need a guide who thinks outside the box a little. Alessandro is such a guide. Cycle touring or hiking might not be the first thing you think of when planning a trip to the City of Art but if you’ve a few hours or even a day free in your schedule and a wish to take a look past the dazzling surface of the city, then do check out what Inspiring Tuscany has to offer.

We biked across the River Arno and into the suburb known as the ‘Galileo Hills’. Our initial aim was to visit the villa where Galileo worked then to cycle through the surrounding countryside to enjoy a taste of the rolling hills and vineyards for which Tuscany is world famous.

I flipped the lever on the handlebars to ‘Eco’, one of several settings that will add an electrical shove to whatever peddling you do. At the bottom of a hill I got into low gear and flipped to ‘Tour’ and the extra power swept me to the top. I didn’t even have to rise up out of the saddle.

This is obviously perfect for touring groups. The fitter people can set their bikes to offer less electrical assistance whilst others can up the assistance to easily keep up with the group.

We cycled quiet roads where the grey, handmade drywall reminded me of Cumbria and the Peak District. It was so rural and typically Tuscan, just a 10 minute ride from the centre of Florence. Here is a typical view seen during a brief rest stop.

Galileo’s villa, in the village of Bellosguardo, is known locally as the ‘Umbrella Villa’ due to the domed temple-like folly that fronts it.

A plaque on the outside wall announces that it has also been home to a great many other famous people such as Florence Nightingale, Elizabeth Browning and Henry James.

We cycled on past wisteria in bloom (visit mid to late April for the best chance of seeing wisteria at it’s finest) and arrived at the Verinchelli Palazzo, a stately home which has belonged to the Verinchelli family since the 13th century.

“We’re mentioned in Dante,” said Thomas Verinchelli as he led us inside to taste some of his family’s wine. “In ‘Purgatorio’, the second book, not the descent into hell,” he quickly added, smiling.

Many palazzo you find around Florence have been brought by corporations and sterilized for touristic use but not this one. Walking through the Verinchelli home offered an authentic look into the modern lives of an established Florentine family.

In the cellars we toured the wine and olive oil making facilities. We sampled their own Vin Santo, a smooth 15% dessert wine made in 2013 and bottled 3 years later.

The urge to sample a few more glasses whilst we talked was strong, but we had to cycle back to Velona’s Jungle. It wasn’t far but there were some fast downhills to take into account and I wanted to be in full control of my senses to enjoy them.

Thomas waved us off.

“He’s a very down to earth guy,” I said as we cycled away. “Very humble, too.”

“It took a long time to find the family,” Alessandro replied. “I knew I wanted to find a family like the Verinchelli’s but it’s not easy these days. Eventually I contacted them via a friend of a friend who I used to go to school with and whom I met years later by chance in the Far East. It was very fortunate! It’s the type of experience I’m happy to share with my guests. The Verinchelli’s are part of the fabric of authentic Florence. To meet them helps one to understand the city so much better I think.”

Inspiring Tuscany offers a great tour that lasted around 3 hours. The batteries of the bikes they have can last up to 160km, depending on the terrain and how you use yours, but as my tour showed me, you don’t have to peddle very far at all from the centre of the city to get a real taste of rural Tuscany. Contact Alessandro via the Inspiring Tuscany Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/inspiringtuscany/